What’s the impact of water scarcity on fire sprinkler systems?

With the world's population growing and climate change intensifying, one of the biggest problems facing humanity today is water scarcity. Nearly 82% of the nation is experiencing at least unusually dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which was released late last year. Although the West has historically experienced drought for hundreds of years, the Northeast is still seeing unusually high levels of dryness, and the Midwest is beginning to experience terrible drought conditions as well. The Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE) Foundation released a research report in December studying water supply, climate change and the impact of water stress on fire protection systems.

“There is no research available on the implications of water shortages on fire protection systems…This gap in the research is concerning because unreliable water supply systems will drastically decrease the effectiveness of fire protection systems in buildings and hinder the active suppression efforts of firefighters when they do not have the required water to combat a fire emergency”, the report states. 


California is experiencing a freshwater crisis. In California, more than 1200 wells that supply houses with drinking water have "gone dry." All cities in California have implemented water conservation measures to restrict the amount of freshwater used.

Fresh water from municipal water sources is typically used to fill water-based fire sprinkler systems. The water that drains from a sprinkler system is never the same quality as the pure drinking water that fills it, as anyone involved in the fire safety sector can attest to. Old sprinkler water frequently smells bad, is slick and slimy, and is discoloured (orange, brown, or black). Usually, water that is drained from the systems is dumped into the sewer. It is never put to use again. The degradation of fire sprinkler water quality is always the result of oxygen corrosion that occurs within the piping, with  several results:

  • Pitting of the metal piping which reduced service life due to leaks
  • Degradation of water quality
  • Production of insoluble metal sludge (oxides)
  • Proliferation of bacteria

Draining is also required for periodic flow testing to verify the hydraulic performance, or after modifications and remodels of the buildings, or repair of damaged or leaking sprinkler systems.

In the US, 42,500,000 zones, or about 50% of the total wet pipe systems, are drained and refilled at least once a year. Over 21 billion gallons of fresh water are released annually from wet pipe sprinkler systems into the municipal sewer or the surface, assuming that the average capacity for these systems is 500 gallons. This is fresh drinking water that is not available for other municipal requirements.                   


Tackling domestic fires with less water

Innovation from the UK has found a way to address this problem and reduce the consumption of water in fire protection for the home. Automist is the world's first intelligent targeted fire protection system for the home. Automist uses thermal sensing and an intelligent algorithm to detect a fire. It can operate much faster than a conventional fire sprinkler. It uses only 5% of the water of a traditional fire sprinkler. Plumis has been selling these systems in and around the UK, completing over 13,000 installations, and intends to enter the US market later this year. Sprinkler systems for the home have been behind the technological curve.

For an industry that addresses a heavily regulated risk that has such a devastating impact on people and costs insurers such a colossal amount in claims every year, Automist has the long-term potential to play a huge role in spearheading the adoption of smart fire sprinklers that reduce water waste and also cause less consequential damage. Water damage is a common problem, with roughly 1 in 60 insured homes making claims to restore water or freezing damage in any given year. The cost to repair water damage ranges widely depending on various factors, with the average claim payout amounting to $11,605. Fill out the form below to register your interest and be informed when Automist is available in your area.

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